Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked, the very definition of style over substance. Fans of the anime will be about the only ones who get a kick out of Bandaiís latest sword-wielding offering, because by all accounts it sticks to the show pretty faithfully; that is, I assume it does, because I donít see any company going into the combination of clichť dialogue, generic rap, samurai, and random wacky characters (a guy who loves bombs, sassy primates, etc.) willingly. Everyone else will find a game that, despite its several different modes and mini games, is void of even modest amounts of pleasure. More appropriately, Samurai Champloo: A Whole Lot of Nothing.
The Samurai Champloo gang is a prototypical one, consisting of the stoic samurai Jin, the halfcocked mercenary Mugen, and the bubbly female sidekick Fuu. The trio is on a journey to find the ďsamurai that smells of sunflowersĒ and, more immediately, food.
The gang begins their journey by spotting a boat offering shelter and food, an offer too good to pass up. Shortly after stepping foot on the boat they find themselves in the northern lands of Ezo, lost and the victims of an ambush. This first encounter is almost all that is needed for you to know that the game is more flash than anything else, with the required amount of enemy deaths coming with elaborate weapon trails and sparks but little in the way of technique being required. Still, itís the first encounter and things can improve. This is also the point when the Mugen and Jinís stories diverge from one another, and the prospects of two adventures, along with an unlockable original character, offer many opportunities for a grand journey.
Even though the journey is present and accounted for, it certainly isnít grand. Samurai Champloo consists of running around bland environments, tapping buttons, and fighting frustratingly difficult bosses. Itís a shame flippant descriptions arenít enough.
Locations consist of mostly outdoor environments, but there are also indoor scenarios and castle towns to spend money in. Both outdoor and indoor environments are basically corridors that lack detail. Enemies spawn constantly from all directions, each requiring just a few attacks before disappearing into a pool of coins. These coins are used in towns to purchase and repair weapons, as well as for purchasing new records and playing mini games. Every one thousand coins makes a koban, and a certain number of kobans will be required by a man in a makeshift barrier for you to proceed; that means that a lack of kobans requires you to backtrack to kill more guys in the hopes of getting enough so that you can finish the level Ė obtuse and unnecessary obstacles are never fun. The castle town isnít too impressive either, consisting of shops that allow you to buy items to increase your characterís stats, like candy, combat necessities, and also gambling mini games involving an 8-bit style game of two big beetles fighting in a turn-based wrestling game and a tap-the-button game with Fuu eating bowls of food.
The weapons and records are core to the game, because each deals with the massive amount of combat that is necessary. Purchased weapons, including European swords like the gladius and broadsword, border on useless due to breaking after a few attacks; they can be repaired in town or through power up found in chests, but once they break they arenít selectable again, which means youíll often find items that end up repairing your invulnerable standard weapon. The records are how the game ties itself in with rap music.
The records are not only different music tracks, but they are also each different attack combos. The top of the screen will show the buttons in a recordís string of combos, two records can be held in ready-to-play status at one time, with the standard attack being strung together its own combo and random heavy attacks thrown in to cause your character to break out more elaborate moves. Some of the inner-combo combos are special, and connecting with those will send your character into high tension status once the tension gauge (filled by connecting with the enemy and not being hit) fills, allowing access for more complex maneuvers. Connecting with one of these complex maneuvers will send you further along and into hyper mode, and this is when the screen has a red tint to it and youíre amped up in strength and speed. There are also technique counters that send you into hyper mode, and this occurs when your attack connects with an enemyís, sending you to a screen where pressing the corresponding onscreen button with the one on the controller (thereís a standard counter, but itís less involved and has much less pizzazz) keeps you from being hurt and leads into hyper mode. If your attacks continue to kill the enemy, then an enemy with a star over their head will appear; hitting the enemy with the star puts you in tate mode, which launches another session of pressing the matching on-screen button with success leading to combo time, which has you slamming the buttons down as quickly as possible. If you manage to hit the buttons fast enough to get over 100 slashes, you go into trance mode. In trance mode you get up to 3 hits to kill up to 100 characters, with unlocked items becoming available (art, purchasable weapons, etc.) depending on how well you do, all played out in a nice looking Samurai Fiction-style single color backdrop with the characters being silhouettes.
Whew. That seems like quite a bit, doesnít it? Unfortunately there really isnít much to it. The game is basically a bunch of quick Simon Says sections mixed with basic combos, flashing lights, quick camera cuts, and fast changes of scenery. Itís stylish when it wants to be, generous with effects and bland in detail, but delivers little else. Considering missions last in the 40 to 50 minute range, thatís a whole lot of button mashing and respawning enemies Ė too much.
Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked is one of the most unsatisfying gaming experiences Iíve had. The game gets its presentation and series specifics right, as far as I can tell, but tosses all of that out of the window with piled on modes to disguise an extremely thin and disposable combat system. On top of all that, the unlockables include some of the most useless art Iíve ever seen, which is saying something considering how poor most art selections are. If youíre going to bruise your thumb smashing buttons nonstop, it should at least be for a good reason, right?